Renton with six other school districts a finalist for federal Race to the Top grant

Renton and six other school districts in King County are as a group among the the 61 finalists for the federal Race to the Top grant competition, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday.

Besides the Renton School District, the region’s application included the  Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Tukwila and Seattle school districts.

The grant proposal was submitted under the name “The Road Map District Consortium” in reference to the districts’ participation in the Road Map Project, a community-wide effort to drive educational improvement in South Seattle and South King County.

The region’s application asks for up to $40 million.

The districts’ superintendents, education associations and school boards collaborated on and approved the grant proposal. The Puget Sound Educational Service District will serve as the lead agency responsible for overall project management and function as the fiscal agent should the grant be awarded.

The finalists, representing more than 200 school districts, were selected from 372 applications the U.S. Department of Education received in November. The department expects to select 15 to 25 winning applications for four-year awards that will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan.

Awards will be announced no later than Dec. 31.

“These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news release “This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.”

Race to the Top applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each application, with independent reviewers’ scores averaged to determine an applicant’s score. The U.S. Department of Education arranged the applications in rank order from high to low scores, and determined which were the strongest competitors to invite back based on “natural breaks” – i.e. scoring gaps in the lineup. The top 61 applications were then selected as finalists.

This is the first time the federal Race to the Top competition has been open to districts and district consortiums. Previously, the grants had only been offered to states.

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